September 16, 2022

One year remembrance of late High Chief J.M Akpeji (JP)

One year remembrance of late High Chief J.M Akpeji (JP)

Choir Rendition, Cultural Display, Empowerment For Widows

By Gabriel Olawale

By this time last Friday, local and rustic dane guns had begun blazing as natives dance frenziedly to the beating of talking drums – it was the signaling of the commencement of activities lined up to commemorate the one year remembrance of late High Chief Joseph Mayaki Akpeji, (JP) the Otu of Igarra from 1973-2021, in Ugbogbo Quarters of Igarra, Akoko-Edo Lcoal Government Area of Edo State.

The array of cultural activities in honour of the foremost “knowledge-industrialist” and Head of Anona Clan of Igarra community included pounded yam feast declared for all and sundry, “ikede” cultural dance among others.

Most significantly was the empowerment for Akoko-Edo widows and memorial lecture titled: “A Wisp of Greatness: Lessons From The Life And Times Of High Chief Joseph Mayaki Akpeji (JP)” which had eggheads such as Prof. Eric Apeji, Dr. Omowumi Olabode Steve Ekundayo, Dr. Agbadua Oyakhiromhe Bamidele among others present at the Unity Holiday Resort, Igarra, venue of the colorful event.

High Chief Charles Aiyelabola, the Akuta of Ezi-Akuta family and heads of other branches of Eziobe family, Hon. Monday Oseh, Warri-based industrialist and politician, Hon. Segun Balogun, aka “Segun Boss”, family relatives, members of Anona Clan also graced the occasion among guests from all walks of life.

The event commenced with an opening prayer by Pastor Adewole Akpeji of Foursquare Gospel Church, Lagos and was followed by a very brief speech by the chairman of the occasion, High Chief Stephen Iyogun, the Daodu of Akuku Kingdom in which he requested for a minute silence in honour of the late Otu of Igarra.

Dr. Agbadua Oyakhiromhe Bamidele, the Deputy Rector, Administration, Auchi Polytechnic, Auchi, who was the guest speaker, delivered his paper and described late High Chief Joseph Mayaki Akpeji, JP, as a community leader who spent his entire life to serve his community and people.

In his lecture, Dr. Agbadua said, “I found it extraordinarily rapturous and unexplainably elated to be invited to give this lecture during the first memorial of our great father, Late Chief Joseph Mayaki Akpeji (The Otu of Igarra).

“I congratulate the family for putting this together. For some other families, it would have been an occasion to invite musicians and waste hard earned resources on lavish ceremonies. On the contrary, you chose to organize the memorial so as to document the legendary achievements of the life and times of our iconic and visionary Leader.

“About this period last year, people from all walks of life gathered at Igarra for the burial of our late Father. During his burial ceremonies and even up till now, a lot has been said about him. Therefore, I am not here to give the biography of this enigma but to highlight some of his distinctive characteristics that need to be mentioned in an occasion such as this.

“Amongst the lessons to be learnt from the life and times of our Late Father are: Resilience, Selflessness, Generosity, Integrity, Community developer, Visionary, amongst others.

For his resilience, he said, “Late High Chief Joseph Mayaki Akpeji (The Otu of Igarra) would not have been able to acquire any form of education. He had to trek from Igarra to Okene on weekly basis just to acquire education.

“In life, there are challenges that are seemingly insurmountable but it takes a resilient and an incurable optimist to continue to move forward. It is clear that the desire to prepare himself for leadership propelled him to go as far as Okene in Kogi State to acquire education.

“Going to Okene was a big challenge but doing this by trekking was and still a difficult task. What are the challenges you face in life? How do you handle them? Do you chicken out and give in to these challenges or you confront these challenges? Being able to move on despite negative stressors does not demonstrate luck on the part of those successful individuals but demonstrate a concept known as resilience.

“Late Chief Joseph Mayaki Akpeji (Otu of Igarra) lived a selfless life. Having gone through the stress of trekking to Okene in order to acquire education, he felt that other people should not go through such rigours.

“He decided to establish New Era Commercial College in 1962. The idea was to provide an opportunity for the people in Akoko-Edo to have access to education particularly in the area of commercial courses.

“There were instances where he had to take it upon himself to organize training programmes free of charge to the people of Igarra in particular and Akoko-Edo in general. Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life’s deepest joy; true fulfillment. I use this occasion to appeal to people of Akoko-Edo to be selfless. It is the Akoko-Edo people that have to develop Akoko-Edo.

“Late High Chief Mayaki built school, you can build hotels, you can build hospitals, shopping malls, schools, event centres, etc. You can even establish a manufacturing company or a large farm. This will help to reduce the unemployment in Akoko-Edo in particular.

“The death of High Chief Mayaki should prop up our consciousness to always remember that home is home. Let me quickly use this opportunity to assure everyone present that investment in Akoko-Edo will guarantee good returns in the shortest possible time. Let us join hands to develop Akoko-Edo and the time to start is now.

“Late High Chief was not only selfless, he was overtly generous. High Chief Mayaki lived in the hearts of people because of his generosity. He gave to the poor, the rich and anyone that came in contact with him.

“In 1962, when he was presented with the opportunity of serving as a member of the Midwestern Regional Scholarship Board in Benin, he used the opportunity to promote and deepen access of our people to Scholarship. As a Supervisory Councilor, he donated generously to all and sundry.

“During the last Gubernatorial campaign, High Chief donated handsomely to the campaign of one of the Aspirants. It is always said that “you cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late.”

“We are all gathered here today as a form of respect to a man who gave his all to humanity. I appeal to all of us here seated to cultivate the spirit of generosity, that way, we make the world a better place.
Community Developer.

“In 1969, he was initiated into the Eshovo Age Group. He took the “Ipoje” title in 1971 and was installed as the Otu of Igarra (the traditional Head of the Anona Clan) on the 22nd of May, 1973, the throne he occupied before his demise.

“Late High Chief Mayaki represented, canvassed and exemplified these principles. He was not only fair and just in settling issues within the community; he was seen by all to be fair.

“This is the first memorial; therefore, I will have to leave some other important aspects and traits of Late High Chief Joseph Mayaki Akpeji (The Otu of Igarra) for other writers to fill the gaps. In summary, the Late Otu devoted so much, to so many, for so long”.

For Dr. Omowumi Olabode Steve Ekundayo, a renowned public speaker, analyst, award-winning writer and lecturer, University of Benin, taking over the speakership baton, began his paper presentation.

He took some time out to take the keenly-listening audience through the step-by-step life and times of the legendary Otu of Igarra who he eulogized for choosing not to run away, like many others, from the rough paths of life in order to acquire education which, according to him, catapulted him to greatness.

He said, “today, we remember and celebrate an outstanding grassroots mobiliser, great lover of education and knowledge, an extraordinary administrator and educationist, an infectious enthusiast of culture and visionary traditional ruler, the immediate past Otu of Anonu Clan, High Chief Joseph Mayaki Akpeji.

“The fact that some people, out of light-mindedness, chides old people–by saying, for example, ‘look at this old man!’ Abeg, old woman, comot for road, make I pass jare!’–does not mean they hate old age. Perhaps, they dislike the senility associated with advanced age. Despite that, who wants to die young? If you want to die young here, put up your hand… Okay, if you want to live long, put up your hand…

“Well, Elbert Hubbard admonishes us not to “take life too seriously” because “you’ll never get out of it alive.” We die at anytime, young or old. That is how life has been wired. It is my prayers, however, that we live well till ripe age.

“So, how do we achieve longevity? Let us look at the excellent model that High Chief Joseph Mayaki typifies. He lived for 90 years. That is fairly long, exceeding the 70 year line drawn by the Holy scriptures in Psalm 90 verse10:

“The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.”

“So, High Chief Mayaki added extra 20 years! High Chief Mayaki Akpeji arrived this world in 1931, at the flourish of British colonialism. The young Mayaki then in the late 1930s and 1940s started his elementary school at Igarra here at the St Mary Catholic Primary School, later moving to Holy Cross Catholic School in the 1950s at Okene in the defunct Middle Belt, later Kwara and now Kogi State. From there, he moved to City Commercial College in Lagos.

“Having acquired the education sufficient for him at that time, he entered the world of performance and achievements. At 31, he was made a the defunct Mid-Western Region Scholarship Board in 1962, and he deployed his good offices to have scholarship granted to many of his kinspeople in Akoko Edo in particular and Mid-West in general. At the same period of time, he was a proprietor of New Era Commercial College, Igarra, which gave numerous people affordable and easily accessible secondary education.

“He was made Supervisory Councillor, Finance in 1979 in Akoko Edo Local Government and on the completion of his tenure in office in 1982, he returned to his domain of education and became the proprietor of Akoko Edo Comprehensive College, Igarra.

“High Chief Mayaki Akpeji was a grassroots mobiliser and culture enthusiast. He entered the Eshovi Age Group in 1969. Three years later, he took the Ipoje title and three years later, he was installed as the Otu of Igarra in 1973. Then last year, 2021, he responded to the ineluctable call of his Almighty Creator, having reigned for five decades, thus joining the list of traditional rulers with the longest reign, one of the longest ones in modern times.

“Time will not permit me to give you the details of how he touched and changed lives during his lasting reign as Otu. He left the world at 90 last year. So, we can unarguably conclude that he lived well and long. He is therefore a quintessence of how to live well and long.

“Now, if you are over 40 or 50 years here, our generation, your fathers might have narrated to you the mind-bogging rigours they had to ensure in their confrontations with acquiring western education just up to Standard Six, let alone going for College or University Education. It was easier for an elephant to enter the hole of a rabbit than for someone from a humble rural background to gain admission to the University College Ibadan, the only university at that time. However, the young Mayaki then, an enthusiast of knowledge, struggled very strenuously to have Standard Six and College Education.

“Standard Six and TC 1 & 2 then were like first and second degrees, if not a doctorate. If you had a Standard Six, you were the son or daughter of a god, then if you had a College or University degree, then you were a god or goddess!

“On your return home, cannons would be blasted for you with a social get-together lasting from dusk to dawn. The last one I experienced in the 1970s as a primary school child was at the graduation of my maternal uncle now the Daudu of Imoga who came home with em- was it a GL or SL Salon car now? Cannons were exploded for him and we observed what we used to call ‘watchnight’ till dawn. My mother later called me, whispering in my ears: “Do you see the honours my sister’s son is receiving? If you go to the University and graduate well, you will also receive such honours and a car”.

“So, I was inspired. Some twenty something years later, when I graduated, nobody shot even Christmas ‘knock out’ for me! Where is that car my mom dreamt of? I had a second degree, but no one even whistled for me. I got angry and went for my doctoral degree. Nothing for me! All I get is Dr, Dr Dr or Dokay, Dokay! How much is that? I will become a professor soon, very soon. If no one shoots cannon for me, I will gather my people and blast them for myself, like the Achebe’s proverbial lizard which fell from the iroko and praises itself. Surely, we have lost a lot of values and glories in our system of education.

“I am not just spinning a yarn, ladies and gentlemen. High Chief Joseph Mayaki belongs to those glory and radiance of yesteryear that we have lost in the domain of education. He went through rogours to acquire education and then created the enabling environment for numerous people of his epoch to acquire education and advance themselves.

“So, he lived well and long: a great philanthropist and community leader imbued with the affable characteristics of human interaction.

“My conclusion is that if you really want to live long, then forget about living long and concentrate on living well. Make an effort every day to touch a life. Go back to your roots. Remember your culture. Remember your home. Do not be afraid of witches and wizards who will kill you. You must die anyway, one day! Leave something behind for people to remember you for. That is how to live long and that is why we remember great minds like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Awolowo, Martin Luther King Junior, Zik of Africa, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Thomas Sankara, Nelson Mandela, and many others. Some of them died very young, but they are still alive, relevant yesterday, today and forever.

“I tell you if you live in this way, even if you die at 50, or less or more, you will still live long because how long you live, as Socrates and Seneca have observed, is not determined by the number of years but your achievements, principles and how you have touched lives, the same legacy that High Chief Mayaki Akpeji has left behind”.

Otunba Chief Folorunsho Dania, the Secretary of the palace of the Otaru of Igarra narrated how the late sage played some tremendous fatherly role in his life, especially his priceless encouragement that propelled him to having a house of his own today. He described him as a living legend whose contributions to educational development were beyond description.

For Prof. Eric Apeji, late Otu of Igarra was a politician and a cultural man. However, there’s one that interest him most about the life and times of the late safe. He said, “But the one that interest me most is that he was a knowledge industrialist; many of us here are not aware of this.

“I was in the elementary school, when High Chief Akpeji started a school. As a kid, I knew that he started a school. As a matter of fact, I had family friends who finished from that school – it was a commercial school and ended up in an oil company; this man retired from Agip, a multinational oil firm and the only education he had was the one provided by late High Chief J.M Akpeji.

“He was the pioneer school proprietor in the entire Akoko-Edo and I think we would do him service by clapping for him.

“As a politician, he touched many people. He became a cultural man by being the Otu of Igarra, he touched the lives of many communities and beyond. For somebody who developed knowledge, who set up school and touched human beings tells you that the greatest thing you can give Akoko-Edo is education. Many of us here are privileged only because we went to school and not because we are intelligent.

“We are a rural community. We need people to invest in education – investment in hotels are good, no doubt about that but industry and education are the best. I hope the organizers of this occasion have rapporteurs. I hope you’re coming out with a communique and make this occasion public.

“John Mayaki like his father is trailblazing. We are used to remembrance by eating and drinking. I doubt if anybody has done this before by turning it to lecture. Those of us who have not done that, I think this is an eye opener. Next time you’re doing remembrance, after the pounded yam and drinks, do a thing like this – this is more fundamental and more profound. This will go beyond the community. The papers will become papers of review and many people will develop on it.

“I want to thank the community, I want to thank the family for this opportunity. The question we should ask ourselves is this: if we have the opportunity, what do we do with it? We cannot all be school proprietors but we can be fecund in different ways – this is a message to all of us.

“Otu was a great man. Am proud of his legacies. I am particularly proud of his knowledge industry. He trained people. He taught people. Many people graduated from the school that he set up here and have become professors, lawyers, engineers among others – nothing could be better than that”.

The academically charged environment soon became solemn when choristers of Mantle of Deliverance Ministry mounted the stage with their rendition – “Till We Meet Again At Jesus Feet”.

The event came to climax with a vote of thanks by Chief Olowojoba, the national president, Anona Clan, while the event was brought to a close at about 2.35 p.m. with a closing prayer led by High Chief Charles Aiyelabola, the Akuta of Ezi-Akuta family.